The studio of Del the Funky Homosapien resembles a typical teenager's room-providing, of course, that said teen was a Japanese animation and video game nerd.
The so-called "Hell Lab" is cluttered with Transformers toys, Gundham figures, instruments, piles of CDs, a computer, a television and other electronic gadgetry. Pictures of Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix and Little Richard, video game posters and musical scales adorn his walls. Despite the adolescent infatuations of his surroundings, there's nothing juvenile or immature about Del's music.
Most hip-hop artists-or artists in general, for that matter-can't be bothered to study music theory and learn how to write in musical scales. Del, on the other hand, has dedicated four years to it.
"I'm tryin' to make some real music. So a lot of my time is devoted to studying music or making music, or trying to improve upon myself," he says. "I read a lot. I just try to keep my own self in shape and strait so I can just keep growin', and then I have more to offer my audience."
Audiences have been consuming Del's offerings for more than a decade. His first album, I Wish My Brother George was Here (a reference to funk legend George Clinton), was released in 1992. Subsequent full-length efforts include No Need for Alarm, Future Development, Both Sides of the Brain and the Dan the Automator collaboration Deltron 3030. His contributions to Gorillaz-the electronic rock project of Automator and Damon Albarn-helped propel their first album to platinum sales.
Del's Oakland-based crew Hieroglyphics-MCs Souls of Mischief, Pep Love, Casual, DJ Jay-Biz and producer Domino-has its own label, Hieroglyphics Emperium. He's written hit songs for his cousin, Ice Cube, and appeared on the Judgment Night and Made in America soundtracks. He even performed on the now-defunct Arsenio Hall Show.
Yet, compared to some MCs who've been around half as long, Del the Funky Homosapien is hardly a household name.
"I'm, like, for the underdog," he says. "I ain't, like, hella pop or glitzy or nothing like that. I'm more like a street-oriented type cat. I be out there-it's just that I don't be out at the club and shit. I mean people see me out here all the time, but they seein' me at Target or some shit. Burger King or some shit."
When asked to describe his daily routine, however, Del doesn't talk about scouring through Target sale racks or combo meals. Music is the only conversation of relevance.
"Everything in my life usually connects to some kinda rhyme or some kinda beat, rhythm or something. So that's usually how I start, and how I end my day. I'd say it's kinda like an obsession, but it ain't really 'cause that's just the way my mind works.
"Transformers toys themselves are still dope as fuck," he offers. "I just bought a couple. They never used to look that fresh."
Whether it's music or intercontinental, classic action figures, Del is like a spoiled kid in a candy store. His enthusiasm for hip-hop is matched only by his knowledge and skill-and innovation.
"It's probably the generation that I'm in, [but] no other music form is really like hip-hop," he says. "You can damn near say anything in hip-hop. If you wanna cuss your momma out, you could do it."
Many MCs (a certain bottle blond Motor City kid comes to mind) have made lucrative careers doing just that. But as Del exhibits, it is possible to skin the cash cow in a dignified manner.
"I was just reading a book prior to [working on the Gorillaz album] called How to Write a Hit Song, so I used the techniques that I learned in that book to write them songs," he recalls.
"The first page was like, "You gotta be original, that's how you make a hit song.' So I was like, "I knew it!' It ain't "OK, you gotta make a song like Hammer. You gotta make a song like Ja Rule. You gotta have singin' in the chorus.' Or "You gotta make a song about guns and crack...'
"I'm peekin' out older cats that do music from funk era, '70s, or jazz era or blues era. These famous cats that blew up didn't do all that shit.... But you can't tell nobody that at the time, 'cause they just got tunnel vision on money."
His forthcoming album, The 11th Hour, as well as the next Heirogliphics album, Full Circle, should provide a good measurement of the Funky Homosapien's musical maturation. "Now that I know a lot more about music, I can definitely devise an album that I can really see my vision all the way through."
Del's vision is aptly mirrored in a postcard he keeps on his wall, which reads: "Knowledge is our strength."